Community rallies to save East Brunswick Schechter from closing
An infusion of pledges, and “significant” pay cuts by staff
The Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick, which was on the verge of closing, now plans to reopen thanks to an infusion of pledges, “significant” pay cuts by staff, and support from a community that has rallied to its aid.
In an e-mail sent to parents and community leaders early on the morning of Aug. 16, following a meeting held hours earlier, former Schechter president Mickey Kaufman wrote, “I am delighted to report that at tonight’s follow-up meeting to the communal meeting held earlier this week, the Schechter parent body stood unanimously and in solidarity to keep the school open.
“A decision has been made and it is the right one. Congratulations!”
School supporters began meeting Aug. 8 following an announcement that the school would close if it could not resolve its financial and enrollment challenges. The 31-year-old Conservative day school has classes from kindergarten through eighth grade.
However, in the ensuing week, $117,000 in pledges were made toward a goal of $150,000, with additional commitments expected.
Kaufman acknowledged that enrollment would be down because some parents had already made other arrangements for their children. But he expected it would be between 40 and 50 students.
Despite the lower enrollment totals, the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County has pledged to keep funding at the same level.
Head of school Rabbi Stuart Saposh said the meeting on Aug. 15 brought out about 150 community members, mostly Schechter parents, who were “committed to doing whatever it takes to keep the school going.”
“This is all very exciting,” he told NJJN. “We have received a tremendous amount of support from our community and the larger community. We got donations from people who had nothing to do with our school but who stepped up to help. We were moved by their commitment.”
That help included pledges by those affiliated with other day schools, alumni, area Conservative synagogues, and the Orthodox Young Israel of East Brunswick, which Saposh described as now being “our partner.”
Additionally, East Brunswick Jewish Center, which houses the Schechter school, agreed to cut its rent by 50 percent, saving it $50,000. Saposh has agreed to cut his salary in half, according to the letter. All teachers and staff have also agreed to a “significant” pay cut.
Kaufman said even with the “shared sacrifice,” a $100,000 funding gap remained, depending on enrollment, translating into $2,000-3,000 per child.
“The parent body was asked if they would collectively commit to raising this shortfall, and they have accepted this challenge,” said Kaufman. He said each family would either pay a surplus, accepting a lower level of tuition assistance, or help with the fund-raising effort being mobilized by parents and former parents over the next six months.
Staff was told of the school’s challenges during an Aug. 7 in-service training day in preparation for the start of the school year. Saposh informed them that a decision to close the school had been made by its board the night before.
Board president Sam Kamens had said enrollment was less than had been budgeted for and blamed the situation on declining enrollment, the economic climate, the number of families in need of tuition assistance, and fund-raising shortfalls.
Saposh said that now there is a plan to keep the school open and deliver the same quality of education as in the past as officials resolve financial issues. As a result, he said, some parents who had enrolled their youngsters elsewhere appear to be reconsidering.
The school had been set to open at the end of August, but Saposh said he delayed that until Sept. 9 in light of the upheaval.
“We will be opening with a smaller faculty,” he explained, without giving details on the number of teachers. “We will have a leaner group, but we will be offering everything we have in the past that made Schechter so special.”